American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Arctic, Kingait Fiord, Baffin Island

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1974

Kingnait Fiord, Baffin Island. During July and August, I led a return expedition to the previously unexplored valley running northwest from the head of Kingnait Fiord. Here in 1972 we had discovered spectacular alpine peaks and miles of walls in a new area rivaling Pang- nirtung Pass. Included were several free-standing mountains offering no “walk-up” routes, unusual for Baffin, where big faces usually are backed by gentle snow slopes. Expedition members included two other veterans of 1972, my wife Caroline, and Richard Kullberg; new this year were Curt Saville, Ron Racine, and James Lawsing. Again we carried Explorers Club Flag #192. We reached Pangnirtung on July 17, where ice conditions and Eskimo preoccupation with seal hunting precluded an early attempt to repeat last year’s transportation scheme, an exciting 80-90 mile voyage by ice-breaking freighter canoe, to the head of Kingnait Fiord. Instead we managed to charter a helicopter engaged in National Park and film work, and proceeded by air (in light fog and rain) to a drop point near our old “Fiord Camp”. In a cooperative effort with a CBC film crew, half of our supplies had been cached earlier at our future Base Camp by the “chopper”. Last year our efforts had been terminated in a snowstorm after only one major climb, a 5700-foot snow peak; this time, a blizzard began while we were packing up the valley. It really opened up as we reached Base Camp on the main valley glacier, approximately 12 miles from the fiord. This storm continued intermittently for a week, dropping over two feet of powder snow that obliterated all signs of crevasses and snow bridges. Our main objective was a striking, pointed peak, rising as an island of rock in the center of the glacier and completely dominating the valley. The first attempt on this mountain took place up the northeast ridge from “High Camp East” in a whiteout during the storm. This climb ended on the north summit (5550 feet) separated by one mile of thin, pinnacled ridge from the main summit to the south. The main summit (5750 feet) finally was reached from “High Camp West” (3200 feet) on August 5, via a direct ice-and-rock route that paralleled a rather rudimentary west ridge. Three other major first ascents were accomplished during the three- week expedition. One of these was Valhalla Mountain, the only named geographical feature in the area. A prominent rock pyramid (5000 feet+) standing at the east head of the main glacier, Valhalla was climbed via a narrow southeast ridge immediately following the storm. Another climb, requiring an 18-hour round-trip but technically easier, was the highest point in the area. This massive mountain probably is the second highest south of Pangnirtung Pass, and one of the highest in Baffin. Its east face rises over 3000 feet directly from the west head of the main glacier. The climb followed a glacier leading to the summit ridge from the southwest. Another summit exceeding 5000 feet, on the east side of the main glacier also was climbed via an ice- and snow-filled couloir. Details of the expedition appear in Canadian Alpine Journal, 1974. Vast, still-unexplored areas for peak and wall climbing exist in this whole region, the “Kingnait Highland”, that lies between Pangnirtung Fiord and Pass, and Kingnait Fiord on the Cumberland Peninsula.

George Van B. Cochran, M.D.

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